Chinese Academy of Sciences Announces Research Progress on the “Carbon Neutrality” Framework Roadmap

On May 30th, at the 7th Annual Conference of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ding Zhongli, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, delivered a special report entitled “Research on China’s “Carbon Neutrality” Framework Roadmap”, introducing the recent focus of the Chinese Academy of Sciences on carbon neutrality. And the progress of the consulting project laid out by the problem.

According to Ding Zhongli, carbon neutrality refers to anthropogenic emissions (fossil fuel utilization and land use) caused by man-made (timber accumulation, soil organic carbon, engineering storage, etc.) and natural processes (ocean absorption, erosion-sediment process carbon burial, etc.) Carbon sequestration in alkaline soils, etc.), that is, net zero emissions. In 2019, global carbon emissions amounted to 40.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide, 86% of which came from the use of fossil fuels, and 14% came from land use changes. These emissions are ultimately absorbed by 31% of terrestrial carbon sinks, 23% by ocean carbon sinks, and the remaining 46% is retained in the atmosphere. Carbon neutrality is to find a way to reduce or absorb the carbon dioxide that would otherwise be trapped in the atmosphere.

According to him, at present, the world’s carbon emissions are at different stages, which can be roughly divided into four types. The emissions of developed countries such as the United Kingdom, France, and the United States have reached their peaks in the 1970s and 1980s, and are currently in a stage of decline after the peak; my country is still in the stage of industrial restructuring and upgrading, and economic growth entering a new normal. Emissions are gradually entering a “platform period”; emissions from emerging countries such as India are still rising; there are also a large number of developing and agricultural countries, whose emissions that accompany the rapid economic and social development have not yet been “started.” Some member states of the European Union took the lead in committing to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. my country also pledged in September 2020 to “strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, and strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.”

“This is an ambitious but extremely difficult strategic goal. Judging from the historical relationship between carbon emissions and economic growth in major developed countries, the level of development of a country is closely related to the cumulative carbon emissions per capita. As far as my country is concerned, the cumulative carbon emissions per capita It is much lower than the major developed countries and also smaller than the global average. Our pursuit of carbon neutrality by 2060 is far more difficult than developed countries.” Ding Zhongli said.

In response to the scientific and technological needs in the issue of carbon neutrality, the Faculty of the Chinese Academy of Sciences established a major consulting project “China Carbon Neutrality Framework Roadmap Research”. The goal is to design a preliminary roadmap for discussion, revision, and improvement. At the same time, how to implement the “roadmap” “, put forward suggestions at the operational level. The project is organized in three aspects: emission end, carbon fixation end, and policy end. It focuses on the forecast of total future energy consumption, the way to increase the proportion of non-carbon energy, the forecast of irreplaceable fossil energy, the iterative demand for non-carbon energy technology research and development, and the terrestrial ecology. The calculation of the current status of system carbon sequestration, the analysis of the future carbon sequestration potential of terrestrial ecosystems, the evaluation of carbon capture, utilization and storage technology, the proposal for the first demonstration zone on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and the policy and technical analysis have set up 9 special topics for research.

Academician Ding Zhongli pointed out in the report that carbon neutrality may seem complicated, but in summary it is a “three-terminal force” system: the first end is the energy supply end, and non-carbon energy sources are used to replace fossil energy power generation and hydrogen production as much as possible.  Build a “new power system or energy supply system”; the second end is the energy consumption end, and strive to realize electricity, hydrogen energy, geothermal, solar energy and other non-electricity in most fields such as residential life, transportation, industry, agriculture, and construction. Carbon energy replaces fossil energy consumption; the third end is man-made carbon sequestration, which removes the carbon dioxide that has to be emitted through a combination of ecological construction, soil carbon sequestration, and carbon capture and storage. In short, it is to choose appropriate technical means to achieve “carbon reduction and carbon fixation” and gradually achieve carbon neutrality.

Based on the national strategic goals of carbon neutrality and the existing achievements of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Carbon Project, Academician Ding Zhongli also put forward preliminary views in 5 aspects——

1. The process of “carbon neutrality” is both a challenge and an opportunity. The process will be a major economic and social transformation, and it will be a major change involving a wide range of fields. “Technology is king” will be fully manifested in this process, that is, whoever takes the lead in technology will gain an advantage in the future international competition. The country needs to actively research and plan, plan and act on decisions, systematic layout, organizational strength, and special support, and strive to gain industrial dominance with technological advancement and make it an important driving force for national rejuvenation.

2. This round of “great transformation” requires the “three ends” of energy structure, energy consumption, and man-made carbon sequestration. The required funds will be astronomical, and it will never be met by government financial subsidies. We must adhere to the market orientation. Encourage competition and move forward steadily. The government’s financial funds should be mainly invested in technology research and development and industrial demonstration, and strive to make the iterative progress of my country’s technology and industry faster than other countries. In this process, it is particularly necessary to prevent a significant increase in energy prices, which affects residents’ lives and product exports.

3. The consulting project of this academic department can only give a framework proposal first for discussion, correction and improvement in the scientific and technological community. It is hoped that after gathering the wisdom, the recommendations of the Faculty of Education will have substantial guiding significance for China’s major issues such as how to promote this transformation and how to form a well-structured R&D system with clear responsibilities in the future national innovation system. The project team believes that my country’s academic community should uphold an open attitude, participate widely, and display imagination and creativity. When determining the roadmap, the relevant state departments may consider going through a period of “contending of a hundred schools of thought” and not rushing to “close up”.

4. In the “Great Transformation”, the coordination of the industry is extremely important. “Carbon reduction, carbon fixation”, “electricity substitution” and “hydrogen energy substitution” all require additional costs for enterprises. If different enterprises in a certain industry cannot coordinate and advance together, it will inevitably lead to cost savings for “non-operational enterprises”. “Bad money drives out good money” phenomenon. Therefore, the design of a “carbon neutral” roadmap and an effective incentive/restraint system by industry needs to be put on the agenda as soon as possible.

5. To evaluate the carbon neutrality of countries, regions, industries, enterprises and even households, it needs to be measured from both ends of revenue and expenditure. From the perspective of energy consumption, “support” (ie emissions) is relatively easy to measure; “receipt” (ie carbon sequestration) is difficult to accurately measure due to its diverse types and complex processes, especially the increase in carbon sequestration under “human effort” determine. Therefore, the country should establish a systematic monitoring, calculation, reporting, and verification standard system as soon as possible, with a view to ensuring that the right to speak is in our country’s carbon budget.

On the same day, Academician Ding Zhongli suggested to conduct in-depth research on issues such as the distribution of future emission rights and the verification of carbon emission reports. In terms of scientific and technological support, there are still many basic scientific issues such as the sensitivity of carbon dioxide to warming that need to be studied in depth. On the issue of carbon neutrality, the scientific and technological community still has a long way to go. 

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